The Thorny Question of Translating Brand Names
Well known companies always trade on their brand name and this is often the standard bearer of their success. Over the years, a brand becomes so well known that its name is used to refer to a generic product, even when the original product has disappeared. For decades, an electric vacuum cleaner was called colloquially a “hoover,” simply because the Hoover company was the first to develop these machines. So well known was the brand that “hoover” became a new verb. You “hoovered” the carpet, even if you were using a Chinese made and branded device.
In many cases, brand names survive translation. If companies had a choice, they would prefer their brands to remain the same regardless of where their products were marketed and the language used in that place. Coca Cola, for example is universally recognized whatever the language. It doesn’t really mean anything in English, apart from the fact that the secret ingredients may contain substances obtained from the coca plant (or do they?).
There are many brand names that are translated literally (transliterated) from one language to another without any problems at all, but for translation international success sometimes this doesn’t work. There are occasions when a brand name has words in it which have a very different meaning in another language and can be offensive, funny or just downright confusing.
A simple example is the English word “mist.” This is a common brand name or part of a brand name in a product developed and marketed in the English speaking world, but transliterated into German, for example, can cause serious problems. “Mist” in German means “excrement,” not exactly the sort of connotation when trying to market a shampoo or detergent, for example. “Green Mist shampoo” transliterated into German just won’t do for translation international success and so the company has to find a suitable alternative!
There are other reasons for choosing a different brand name for a product, even when the original name doesn’t actually mean anything or create any offense or ridicule. This is when a brand is “transcreated,” rather than transliterated. A good example is the “Volkswagen,” a very popular brand of German made automobile. In China, the brand is deliberately changed into a catchy Chinese version. The word “volkswagen” actually means in English, “the people’s car,” but as it stands means absolutely nothing in Chinese. Volkswagen is so close to “folks’ wagon” in English that it doesn’t need translating, but in China the Volkswagen brand has been changed to “dàzhòng qìchē” (大众汽车), which translates in English as the people’s car!
Choosing the right brand when marketing overseas can be a thorny issue, so has to be treated with the utmost importance to guarantee translation international success.